Herb: Juniper

Latin name: Juniperus communis

Family: Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Medicinal use of Juniper:

Juniper fruits are commonly used in herbal medicine, as a household remedy, and also in some commercial preparations. They are especially useful in the treatment of digestive disorders plus kidney and bladder problems. The fully ripe fruits are strongly antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, strongly diuretic, rubefacient, stomachic and tonic. They are used in the treatment of cystitis, digestive problems, chronic arthritis, gout and rheumatic conditions. They can be eaten raw or used in a tea, but some caution is advised since large doses can irritate the urinary passage. Externally, it is applied as a diluted essential oil, having a slightly warming effect upon the skin and is thought to promote the removal of waste products from underlying tissues. It is, therefore, helpful when applied to arthritic joints etc. The fruits should not be used internally by pregnant women since this can cause an abortion. The fruits also increase menstrual bleeding so should not be used by women with heavy periods. When made into an ointment, they are applied to exposed wounds and prevent irritation by flies. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is "Toxin elimination".

Description of the plant:


9 m
(30 feet)

May to


Habitat of the herb:

Chalk downs in S. England but only where there is least sunshine and most rain, heaths, moors, pine and birch woods in the north of Scotland on acid peat, often dominant on chalk, limestone and slate.

Edible parts of Juniper:

Fruit - raw or cooked. It is usually harvested in the autumn when fully ripe and then dried for later use. A soft, mealy, sweet, resinous flesh. The fruit is often used as a flavouring in sauerkraut, stuffings, vegetable pates etc, and is an essential ingredient of gin. The aromatic fruit is used as a pepper substitute according to one report. An essential oil is sometimes distilled from the fruit to be used as a flavouring. Average yields are around 1%. The cones are about 4 - 8mm in diameter and take 2 - 3 years to mature. Some caution is advised when using the fruit, see the notes above on toxicity. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute. A tea is made by boiling the leaves and stems. A tea made from the berries has a spicy gin-like flavour.

Other uses of the herb:

A decoction of the branches is used as an anti-dandruff shampoo. The essential oil distilled from the fruits is used in perfumes with spicy fragrances. In hot countries the tree yields the resin "Sandarac" from incisions in the trunk. This is used in the production of a white varnish. The stems were at one time used as a strewing herb to sweeten the smell of rooms. The whole plant can be burnt as an incense and fumigant. It was used during epidemics in the belief that it would purify the air and cleanse it of infection. Fresh or dried juniper branches also make a good insect repellent. Many forms of this species are good ground cover plants for sunny situations. Forms to try include "Depressa Aurea", "Dumosa", "Effusa", and "Repanda". "Prostrata" can also be used. The bark is used as cordage and as a tinder. Wood - strong, hard, fragrant, very durable in contact with the soil and very close-grained, but usually too small to be of much use. It makes an excellent fuel.

Propagation of Juniper:

The seed requires a period of cold stratification. The seed has a hard seedcoat and can be very slow to germinate, requiring a cold period followed by a warm period and then another cold spell, each of 2 - 3 months duration. Soaking the seed for 3 - 6 seconds in boiling water may speed up the germination process. The seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Some might germinate in the following spring, though most will take another year. Another possibility is to harvest the seed "green" (when the embryo has fully formed but before the seedcoat has hardened). The seedlings can be potted up into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow on in pots until large enough, then plant out in early summer. When stored dry, the seed can remain viable for several years. Cuttings of mature wood, 5 - 10cm with a heel, September/October in a cold frame. Plant out in the following autumn. Layering in September/October. Takes 12 months.

Cultivation of the herb:

Chalk downs in S. England but only where there is least sunshine and most rain, heaths, moors, pine and birch woods in the north of Scotland on acid peat, often dominant on chalk, limestone and slate.

Known hazards of Juniperus communis:

Although the fruit of this plant is quite often used medicinally and as a flavouring in various foods and drinks, large doses of the fruit can cause renal damage. Juniper should not be used internally in any quantities by pregnant women.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.